The Walk

156478459201_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_v63860474_.jpgI’m wondering now why it has taken me so long to pick up this book, The Walk, by Jeffrey Robinson; I’ve had it on my shelves since December, and I’ve kept my eye on it as a possibility, but never quite got around to it. But when I picked it up yesterday on a whim, I realized very quickly that it is a book I’m going to enjoy a lot. First of all, and this isn’t even related to the book itself, I noticed that it’s published by Dalkey Archive Press, and it’s got a list of their books in the back, a list which looks quite wonderful, full of world literature titles, some of which I’ve heard of and many of which I haven’t. From what I can tell, they seem to be lesser-known works that tend toward the experimental and subversive. I’ve only recently begun to check out publishers’ websites and blogs, and now I’m wondering what took me so long with this too; I’ve enjoyed checking out the Hesperus Press blog and A Different Stripe, the New York Review of Books Classics blog.

But back to the book; after checking out the Dalkey Archive books, I looked through the “Bibliographic Essay” and the “Afterword,” both of which list books about walking. This sort of essay is a goldmine, isn’t it? Neither of them lists a whole lot of books, but the ones they do are intriguing. Here are a few of them:

  • The Walker’s Literary Companion, eds. Roger Gilbert, Jeffrey Robinson, and Anne Wallace
  • Walks in the World: Representation and Experience in Modern American Poetry, by Roger Gilbert
  • Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust (I’ve raved about this one on this blog before)
  • Joseph Amato’s On Foot: A History of Walking
  • Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (I’ve read bits of this but never the whole thing)
  • Edward Hoagland’s Walking the Dead Diamond River
  • Gary Snyder’s book of poems The Back Country (I’ve never read Snyder, but think I will one day)
  • Eric Newby, A Traveller’s Life
  • Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
  • Aldous Huxley’s Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist
  • Authors who write about urban rather than rural walking, including Restif de la Bretonne, Baudelaire, Nerval, Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Kafka, and Walter Benjamin. Also, Alfred Kazin (A Walker in the City), and poets Frank O’Hara and Charles Reznikoff.

And that’s not even all of it, and doesn’t include books mentioned in the main text itself. I’ve read the first two chapters of the main text, the first one an introductory chapter and the second on “The Foot and the Leg.” I love the idea of a chapter on the foot and the leg! I may post on quotations from the introductory chapter some other time, but for now, here are a couple of things from this second chapter:

People observe their feet or write about them with a unique detachment. The foot is not quite a part of the rest of the body, but not quite part of the mind and heart that direct actions and receive impressions. The foot is simply there, as the shoe that eventually may fit it is simply there.

Yet this does not mean that thoughts about the foot are simple or that people agree about its functions and, more provocatively, its character. Thoughts about the foot tend to exist in oppositions: the useful vs. the useless, the primitive or natural vs. the civilized, the animal vs. the spiritual, the physical vs. the mental, the heavy vs. the airy, the earthly vs. the spiritual, the ugly vs. the beautiful, the repulsive and disgusting vs. the sexually attractive and the adorable, the innocent vs. the seductive. The foot either responds to the body’s commands or works from an independent center. The foot is a thing or it is human.

And one more thing from later in the chapter:

Charles Lamb gushed over walking: “walked myself off my legs, dying walking!” This would be life as a pleasurable fulfillment, a leavening of the body into spirit, the rhythm of the legs dissolving the weight of the legs into energy. “To walk one’s legs off” does not indicate dismemberment. No violence hides beneath the swing of the legs. Along with the legs, one will have walked off self-consciousness, all heat. One may have arrived at what Rilke calls “The profound indifference of the heart.”

This is one of the reasons I love walking so much; I can walk off self-consciousness, and turn weight into energy.


Filed under Books, Nonfiction

11 responses to “The Walk

  1. Cam

    Sounds like interesting reading Dorothy. I’d read most of those books listed based only on the title. Was never able to finish Dillard’s book, though I attempted it a few times.

    As for the chapter on the foot and the leg: one may not think much about feet — until you injure one of them. It is amazing how easy it is to take for granted stepping in/out of the bath, a car or bus, boarding a plane, or even walking up 1 or 2 short steps to enter a building or to get to a seat in a movie theatre. I don’t think anyone would think the foot useless, but many probably don’t realize how useful it is! All those little bones fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle bound with a rubber band. Walk around in a cast or ortho-boot for a day or two and one unappreciative of the foot would surely change her mind. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but I’ll have a ortho-boot to give away in a few weeks when I’m done with it should anyone be doubtful.


  2. This book sounds wonderful and your enthusiasm for it is contagious 🙂 I actually have thought quite a lot about my feet mostly because I often have difficulty finding shoes that fit my wide foot and high arch. But also because of the ballroom dancing I do. I love walking barefoot on a cool sidewalk in the early morning in spring when the air is warm but the warmth hasn’t made it to the ground yet. Sheer sensual delight.


  3. This sounds like a marvellous book. I’ll have to track down a copy. I bought a copy of Alfred Kazin’s “A Walker in the City” not long ago at a secondhand bookshop but I had forgotten all about it until you mentioned it here. I must fish it out of my overwhelming TBR piles. Clearly, my book buying habit is out of hand when I can’t even remember recent acquisitions…


  4. I am so not a walker myself, but I love the way you write about it Dorothy!


  5. I pulled a muscle on my toe once and it became difficult to walk. That’s once of those times when I realise just how much we take walking for granted.

    What you wrote about walking off self-consciousness, about achieving “profound indifference of the heart”. Ever wondered why some of us pace the room when we are agitated? That need to walk off the tension. Walking is a remarkable thing.


  6. hepzibah

    First I want to say that I was scrolling down your blog and I am impressed that you seem to be reading at 3 books at the same time…I think that is really cool, and for some reason, I can only read one book at time…i just feel like until it’s complete, I can’t begin another…

    This book sounds really fun and interesting…ummm…I will get it from the library the next time I am there…thanks for your review!


  7. It has never occurred to me look for publishers’ blogs. Cheers for the links!

    I must say though that after a few too many in the pub the other night, I deeply considered both feet and both legs in the long stumble home. There was certainly a unique detachment of my appendages happening that evening.


  8. I ordered this book from the library even before I finished reading the post! plus the Edward Hoagland book. Did
    the list include The Man Who Walked Through Time,
    by Colin Fletcher? a wonderful book by someone who
    undertook to walk, instead of raft, through the Grand


  9. Cam — I believe you about realizing how important the feet are! I hurt the arch of one foot last summer and had trouble walking for a while, and boy was it a pain!

    And Stefanie, I have the wide foot problem too — this isn’t too terribly serious unless I’m buying shoes for backpacking, and then if I don’t get the absolutely perfect shoes, I get pinched toes, which sucks!

    I’d love to know what you think of the Kazin book Kate! It sounds quite interesting.

    Thank you Litlove 🙂

    Dark Orpheus — I like your point about walking and tension; now that I think about it, it seems like walking does a lot of different things to help us manage our psyches, doesn’t it?

    Hepzibah, I never read more than one book at a time until I began blogging, and then fellow bloggers got me into the habit. I like it now because it makes it easier to pick up nonfiction or poetry or challenging fiction because I don’t feel like I have to devote all my attention to that. If I read nothing but Proust, I’d be bored out of my mind quickly, but mixed in with other books, Proust is great.

    Baychimo, I’m newly discovering publishers’ blogs too, and enjoying it — no need to depend on my local Borders to have what I want, is there?

    Lucette, the book didn’t include the Fletcher title, but I’ve got it on my TBR list, probably based on your recommendation, although I don’t remember now 🙂


  10. This book sounds good–I look forward to hearing more about it as you read! I am really into small presses lately–I’ll have to check out the Dalkey Archive backlist. I have also recently been looking at those blogs you mention. There are so many interesting corners of the blog world that I have yet to discover!


  11. Yes — so many interesting blogs, but lord knows I don’t need to spend more time online! 🙂


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